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Women's History Month: Leaders Behind The Mission

We see fundraisers, sometimes we see these charities in the news or at your local community, but how much do we know of what goes "behind the scenes" of charities in our communities? It takes true love and dedication to pursue the never-ending journey of solving our world's problems. These leaders' experiences took them to lead causes that have impacted thousands of people. These are the leaders behind the mission.

Marty Hartman is the Executive Director at Mary’s Place, a nonprofit organization in Seattle that provides safe, inclusive shelter and services for women, children, and families on their journey out of homelessness.

What brought you to the position you find yourself in today? What sparked your passion for this cause?

My family moved frequently when I was a child. We moved 16 times before [I was in] the 5th grade. I really didn't like the first day of school or moving into a new neighborhood and I was scared to make new friends. My mother would always encourage us to go outside and be a friend with someone new, but it never got [easier]. Those feelings of being scared, feeling alone, and wanting a friend has stuck with me.

I got involved with a shelter that my church had organized for women who were experiencing homelessness and I saw how invisible they felt, how their voices were unheard, and I knew I needed to help. Mary’s Place began as the Church of Mary Magdalene, founded by the Rev Jean Kim. They didn’t have a permanent location: she met with homeless women in parks, on ferry boats, and wherever they could gather. When they found a permanent location in a church basement [in 1999], they hired [me as the] director for their new women’s day center. I’ve been honored and so grateful to continue to work with women and families to help them find their voices, get their needs met, and move into housing.

What would you say to inspire young women considering leadership roles?

  • You don’t have to prove that you can do it all. Sometimes it is not easy or smooth. I like to say that I will “fumble, bumble, stumble imperfectly through life embracing it and not avoiding it.”

  • You can ask for help, and that's a good thing.

  • You don’t have to be perfect to be a successful leader.

  • Build a strong team around you, seek feedback from others at all levels, share your gratitude, and be your authentic self!

To support Marty's nonprofit click here.

Amarilis González is the Executive Director of Techos Pa' Mi Gente, they focus on providing home reconstruction and secure housing to low-income homeowners, especially those impacted by hurricanes, that lack funds to rebuild their homes and recover properly. Since 2017 they have rebuilt 62 roofs and currently have 900 families requesting their support.

What brought you to the position you find yourself in today? What sparked your passion for this cause?

Three weeks after hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico I was on my way to the school I used to work at when I saw an elderly couple pulling out their mattresses from what remained of their home. I felt frustrated because help was not arriving to those in need. I expressed my frustration on social media, I posted: “If I had tarps I would install them on people's roofs myself” (During this time FEMA was providing tarps to cover houses that lost their roofs during the hurricane, but those tarps had not arrived). My friends in the diaspora and other countries reacted to my social media post and asked for an address to send tarps. Within weeks my garage was full of donated tarps. I decided to organize a group with my neighbors and made an invitation via Facebook asking for volunteers. A total of 27 people responded to our call to action.

Along with one of my neighbors, Dr. Rubén Estremera, we went out to look for houses without roofs. We named our group “Toldos Pa’ Mi Gente” (Tarps for Our People). We received training on tarp installation. Because the damage to the roofs was extensive we had to do carpentry just to put on a tarp. My husband, Eng. Marcos O. Arocho provided the guidelines for hurricane-resistant homes developed by FEMA and the Chapter of Engineers of Puerto Rico. We decided to evolve and began fixing roofs.

Since then, we have been training volunteers on carpentry and masonry among other construction related training. In May 2018, after a deep analysis, I decided to resign to my job of 17 years as a teacher and continue my work as a volunteer leading the project now called Techos Pa’ Mi Gente (Roofs For My People).

What have you learned throughout your journey with this organization?

I learned that we can do things on our own. We do not need to wait for someone to make things happen for us. We are resilient and strong.

What would you say to inspire the young women considering leadership roles?

There is always a bright side within difficult moments. We need to keep our eyes wide open in order to identify those areas where we can turn chaos into blessings. We all have a mission to accomplish in this world. It is our responsibility to walk towards that goal. That mission will not be easy, but it will be achievable, and when you look back and see the road is taken and all the smiles you created, you will know you made the right choice.

To support Amarili's nonprofit click here.

Laura Cancel is the CEO and Founder of NEDDIE, an end-to-end fundraising platform that connects donors to vetted small to midsize charities, helping charities amplify their marketing, expand their reach, and multiply their funding.

What brought you to the position you find yourself in today?

In 2017 I co-founded Puerto Rico We Care, a nonprofit based in Seattle that was providing aid to communities in Puerto Rico after the devastation of Hurricane Maria. We had over 100 volunteers and partnered with companies such as Microsoft and Costco to deliver aid. We were a “pop-up” nonprofit whose only goal was to help during that specific humanitarian crisis and then disband. Our success got the attention of other nonprofits that have been established for many years and yet had no such success as ours. While talking to these nonprofits I came to realize there was a big gap between technology and the nonprofit industry, a gap I wanted to close. After years of research and many sleepless nights, I created NEDDIE.

As a woman in your position of leadership, what are some of the challenges you face? How do you overcome those challenges?

Being a Latina woman in the tech industry comes with its challenges. The tech industry still has a long way to go to have more diversity and inclusivity. Bringing more women to the tech industry has been one of my goals. I’ve been challenged for “thinking big” and because of it I’ve been called “a dreamer.” I never consider any task too big to accomplish. When I set my mind to do something, I strive to accomplish it. Even when the odds are not in my favor, I continue pushing forward and, even if things don’t go as planned, I always get the results I was looking for and see it as a success. When I started the idea of creating a system to provide aid to all of the 78 towns in Puerto Rico, I remember entering a meeting room at Amazon where I used to work and showing my vision to a group. I was challenged by someone who asked, “Do you know anything about how logistics work?” I responded that I didn’t work in logistics, to which their response was, “Then you don’t know what you are talking about, this will never work.”

This could have been the end of my idea. Instead, I moved forward, did my research, asked for help, and I put my design to the test. I recruited volunteers and set my plan in motion. The results? Thanks to my design, over 4,000 families in all 78 towns received aid. You won’t always get the support you seek, but I use this as a motivation. You have the power to continue moving forward and accomplish what you set your mind to do. There will be “dreamers” along the way that will join you.

To support Laura's small business, join the NEDDIE community and spread the word.

Melissa Arias is the President and CEO of the Pacific Northwest's corner of the Make-A-Wish foundation, which helps fulfill the wishes of children with critical illnesses.

What sparked your passion for this cause?

I have always been attracted to organizations that have a strong mission and a focus on health and education. When I was not working in this field, I was volunteering. I was struck by the importance of Make-A-Wish Alaska & Washington’s work and how it provides profound impacts to children facing critical illnesses and their families. The mission, the highly reputable brand, and the opportunity to expand its impact in an equitable, inclusive, and scalable way was an exciting challenge.

As a woman in a position of leadership, what are some of the challenges you face? How do you overcome those challenges?

In my early years of leadership, I was at organizations that were run by women. So I saw confident and capable women leaders all around me. That made some of the barriers I faced later in my career more of a rude awakening. Those challenges included being told that I was abrasive, that I needed to learn how to be quieter and smaller to be accepted in leadership, or having senior male leaders look past me to talk to my male junior colleagues for an answer I had already provided. Fortunately, I had developed strong female mentors to help me deal with those moments of adversity, and they provided tools and sometimes the confidence to leave and find a better opportunity. Having mentors and a network of female (and male) colleagues who were committed to my success and the success of other women was a huge benefit. I strongly advocate for mentor relationships because I have benefited so much, and I have always tried to reach back and bring others up with me. Knowing I had someone in my corner was huge for me and I hope I can be one of those people for other women.

What would you say to inspire young women considering leadership roles?

  • Speak up!

  • Trust your voice!

  • There are always people who want to help you succeed, so seek them out.

  • Know there are solutions when you face adversity.

To support Melissa's nonprofit click here.

Dr. Natalie Ellington is the founder and executive director of Eileen & Callie's Place, where they support young women coming out of foster care become independent and ready for the world.

After having her own tough experiences as a young adult, Dr. Natalie Ellington decided that she wanted to make a difference. She founded Eileen and Callie’s Place to help women through the tough transitional years after they age out of the foster care system.

Why does the plight of young women aging out of foster care matter to you?

“The plight of these young ladies matters to me for several reasons. First, they’re in this situation through no fault of their own. Children end up in foster care because of some poor decision made by an adult that was supposed to love and care for them. Secondly, they age out unprepared for adulthood. In the best of situations, 18-year-olds cannot handle the intricacies of adult decisions on their own. Without guidance and support, the challenges are so overwhelming it seems to be easier to give up. And lastly, I remember what it was like being 18 and thinking I knew everything!”

What have you learned throughout your journey with this organization?

“I’ve learned it doesn’t take much to make a difference in someone’s life. We have so much that we take for granted and until we stop and look around us, we’ll continue to live in our own little world and walk past others who need our help.”

To support Dr. Natalie's nonprofit click here.

Heather Jones is the Executive Director at Toys for Kids, a nonprofit that gives the gift of toys, scholarships, back-to-school supplies, and more to unhoused and disadvantaged children and families in Washington state.

What brought you to the position you find yourself in today? What sparked your passion for this cause?

When I moved back to Seattle from Los Angeles in 2010, I was having dinner with Rick and he had asked me if myself and my family would like to volunteer with Toys for Kids. At this point Toys for Kids was only volunteers. Two years into volunteering Rick asked if I would take over putting on their yearly Gala. I said yes of course. At this point, I was working a full-time job and volunteering with Toys for Kids. The first year I took over running their Gala I took them from raising $125K to $325K. I continued volunteering for 6 more years. In 2018 Toys for Kids had grown so much that I saw the need for them to have an official Executive Director. I put together a whole presentation on the pros and cons of why Toys for Kids needs an Executive Direction. I asked Rick to lunch and presented the idea to him. He immediately agreed to put me on a trial basis of 6 months to see how it goes. At the end of the year, Rick had me come to the Quarterly Board meeting. At this meeting, the board voted and made the decision to bring me on as the permanent Executive Director. Three years in and I am still in love with my job and can’t imagine myself anywhere else.

As a woman in your position of leadership, what are some of the challenges you face? How do you overcome those challenges?

[People often question] if I can actually do the job and am I too emotional for this position. [Many people say that women are too emotional]. However, I feel our emotions are what makes us passionate about what we love. My mother has been my strength behind the scenes. She taught me to never let anyone tell me I can’t do something, and that if someone says you can’t do it, then prove to them you can. So, I have always had that pushing me forward. I always have to remember that if I want something, go for it and ask. If they say no then let it drive you, learn from it, and then go after it again.

What would you say to inspire young women considering leadership roles?

  • Find a mentor. One of the greatest things I have done was finding a mentor to help me with paving the way. Your mentor can be a man or woman. My mentor is a man and I have learned a great deal in how he runs businesses and how to be a great leader.

  • Be a mentor to someone. I’ve always had the thought that the person that either works for me or I mentor that I hope one day I will be working for them.

  • If you want it, take it. You will never get anywhere without asking for it. This is something that I still question. But every time I did ask, I got the position I wanted.

  • Know your strengths and weaknesses. Continue to nurture your strengths but really dive into what your weaknesses are and learn from them. As you learn your weaknesses and focus on making them stronger you become an even better leader.

To support Heather's nonprofit click here.

Women who lead have to endure countless challenges, and it is inspiring to see them rise up despite the difficulties they face. This month and always, support the women around you, and don't forget to take the advice of these wise leaders.

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